A couple weeks ago, Cooler Master told me it would be sending us a new CPU cooler to review. “Neat,” I thought, musing briefly about another Hyper D92-class heatsink, before filing away the tracking number and forgetting about it for a few days. When UPS showed up with an unexpectedly huge package, I had no idea what it was until I ripped it open and revealed the box for the equally huge MasterAir Maker 8 CPU cooler.
While this 6.8″-tall (or 172 mm) cooler may look like the average large tower heatsink from above, turning it over reveals a base plate unlike anything else out there. The MasterAir Maker 8 is the first cooler to implement Cooler Master’s 3D Vapor Chamber base design. This design comprises four vertical heat pipes that are cast as part of the main vapor chamber. The bottom of the vapor chamber is then machined into the contact surface for the CPU’s heat spreader.
For good measure, another four U-shaped heat pipes are soldered to the top of the main vapor chamber, for a total of eight. This design lets the Maker 8 pack more heatpipes than even the largest single-tower coolers from Noctua, Phanteks, and other heatsink makers. All that copper and aluminum adds up to a weight of 42 ounces, or 1.2kg. This is not an insubstantial item to hang off a motherboard.
Cooler Master includes two of its Silencio FP 140-mm fans with the MasterAir Maker 8. Unlike many heatsinks that use metal or plastic clips, the Maker 8’s fans slide on and off using a pair of plastic rails with click-in retainers. Removing each fan is as simple as pushing in a pair of tabs at the base of the heatsink and sliding the fan up and off. The downside of this design is that each fan can only be used with the Maker 8. These fans light up with red LEDs when they’re powered on. I don’t mind the look, but other builders might appreciate the option to turn off the lights. For those who don’t like the sound of the Silencios, Cooler Master also includes some 120-mm fan brackets that should work with spinners from many manufacturers.
One of the thoughtful touches on this cooler is an integrated set of cable-routing brackets on either side of the base of the tower. Instead of letting the fans’ power cables go where they will, Cooler Master gives builders the option to route those cables to the side of the tower nearest their motherboards’ CPU fan header. The issue with this design is that the fans still have to come off the tower during the installation process, and it might be difficult to get cables through these clips once the main tower is situated among today’s heatsink- and fascia-laden motherboard sockets.
The “Maker” in the Maker 8’s name means that one can swap the default smoked-plastic top plate for an included crinkle-coat metal affair that fully reveals the LED-illuminated Cooler Master logo at the top of the tower. Folks with 3D printers can also grab the schematics for one of these plates and customize it to their hearts’ content. Mere mortals will probably just appreciate the aesthetic choice on offer here.
The Maker 8 may be a single-tower air cooler, but it’s not priced like one. Cooler Master’s suggested price for this tower is a whopping $130, $30 to $40 more than the most expensive air coolers from other manufacturers on Newegg today. Given this eyebrow-raisingly-high price, we’re expecting great things from the Maker 8. Let’s see how it performs.
The MasterAir Maker 8 goes on a lot like Cooler Master’s own Hyper D92, and that’s a good thing.
For Intel sockets, the foundation of the cooler is a black plastic x-brace with captive screws that slip through the motherboard’s mounting holes. A quartet of nuts with threaded ends then goes on top of these screws. With that first set of nuts in place, a pair of crossbars goes on top of the threaded ends, followed by another quartet of nuts. Excuse me while I go get some almonds.
The tower’s base has built-in brackets that fit over a pair of captive bolts on the crossbars. Once the tower is seated atop the CPU and crossbars, one only has to tighten the appropriate pair of nuts over these bolts, and the Maker 8 is locked down. Compared to the more elaborate mounting systems of many of its competitors, Cooler Master’s solution looks a lot simpler to use, and it doesn’t require any tools to install. Kudos.
On my Intel LGA 1151 board, the tight CPU socket area means that the MasterAir’s intake fan runs into the tall heatsinks on the G.Skill Trident Z DIMMs I’m borrowing from our recent Breadbox build. I thought I was in for an annoying round of parts-swapping or fan-swapping after this discovery, but it turns out Cooler Master had a clever trick up its sleeve when it designed the slide-in fan mounts. Each of the 140-mm fans can click into two positions: a fully lowered position at the bottom of the bracket, or a raised position that provides about half an inch more clearance for taller DIMMS.
Strangely, Cooler Master doesn’t include any mention of this feature in its manual, but it solved my problem nonetheless. Even with that extra clearance, the Maker 8’s intake fan just barely contacts the heatsinks on my RAM. Those who want to use especially tall DIMMS with this cooler should take care when picking parts.
Because of the Maker 8’s size, there’s also a chance it might cause clearance issues with graphics cards in the first PCIe x16 slot on some motherboards, like the Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming G1. The tower just barely avoids intruding on the airspace of the ASRock Z170 Extreme7+ board I used in this review.
After I connected its included fan splitter, the MasterAir Maker 8 was ready to go. Let’s see how it performs.
Our testing methods
Here’s the full configuration of our test system:
|Processor||Intel Core i5-6600K|
|Motherboard||ASRock Z170 Extreme 7+|
|Memory||16GB (2x8GB) G.Skill Trident Z DDR4-3000|
|Storage||Kingston HyperX 120GB SSD|
|Power supply||Cooler Master V550|
|OS||Windows 10 Pro|
Our CPU cooler testing regimen is as follows:
- 10 minutes idling at the Windows 8.1 desktop
- 20 minutes of the Prime95 Small FFTs CPU torture test
- 10 minutes idling at the Windows 8.1 desktop
Our test data is logged using AIDA64 Engineer. To rule out a given case’s cooling performance as a factor, we ran our tests on an open bench. The ambient temperature in our testing environment was about 70 degrees F. Noise measurements were performed 6″ directly above each cooler using an iPhone 6S Plus running the Faber Acoustical SoundMeter application. The CPU cooler and power supply fan were the only noise sources present in the testing environment.
I tested the MasterAir Maker 8 against Cooler Master’s Nepton 240M all-in-one liquid cooler. Each cooler’s fans were connected to the motherboard’s CPU fan header using a PWM fan splitter. Using ASRock’s Windows utility, I set a custom fan speed curve for both coolers that used minimum fan speeds for CPU temperatures up to 30° C, followed by a gradual ramp up to 100% fan speeds past 80° C. I used Cooler Master’s included thermal paste for both coolers in this test.
The tests and methods we employ are publicly available and reproducible. If you have any questions about our methods, join us in our forums to discuss them, or post a comment on this article.
Stock-clocked cooling performance
Here are the test results from each cooler, plotted over time:
And here are some minimum and maximum numbers from each testing phase:
As these numbers demonstrate, both of these coolers are overkill on our stock-clocked Core i5-6600K. Neither one has the least bit of trouble keeping our CPU chilly, even under our grueling Prime95 load. Let’s see if our noise results widen the gap.
Here are some minimum and maximum noise levels from each cooler on our stock-clocked CPU, collected at idle and under load. For reference, the noise floor in my office (according to my iPhone) is about 27 dBA.
The MasterAir Maker 8 produces slightly less noise than the Nepton 240M at idle. Under load, however, the Nepton only gets one dBA louder, while the Maker 8 has to rev up a little more to compensate. That’s demonstrated by its 34-dBA noise levels under load. Neither of these coolers are loud, but the Nepton’s more-or-less constant noise levels fade into the background better than the Maker 8’s.
Even on a stock-clocked CPU, the noise character of the Maker 8’s fans is just OK. At idle, these 140-mm spinners are practically inaudible, but they get a tad growly as they ramp up that tiny bit under load. I wouldn’t call the noise unpleasant, but it is obvious. I was hoping for a better performance here given the Maker 8’s price. Meanwhile, the Nepton 240M is practically silent at all times save for the minor hum from its pump.
Neither of these coolers are necessary if you want to quiet down a stock-clocked CPU, though. Cooler Master’s more compact Hyper D92 is more than enough cooler to do that job. The MasterAir Maker 8 and Nepton 240M are targeted at those who want to crank up the clocks on their CPUs, and in keeping with that mission, let’s see how they do in an overclocking face-off.
To see how much performance the MasterAir could wring out of our Core i5-6600K CPU, I followed our general overclocking strategy of pushing clock speeds using multiplier settings until the system became unstable. I then added more voltage until the system was rock-solid again under our Prime95 load. I continued this cycle until the processor began to reach what I considered unsafe temperatures under each cooler—about 90° C or so—or when I couldn’t eke stability out of the system after multiple rounds of extra voltage.
Using that procedure, I took our i5-6600K to 4.6GHz at an indicated 1.325V under the MasterAir Maker 8. With those settings and the MasterAir’s fans running at 100%, the processor reached 75° C during our Prime95 load, and the cooler produced about 47 dBA. (The temperatures in the screenshot above weren’t obtained during our testing phase.) My system was never quite stable at 4.7GHz no matter how much voltage I added, so the MasterAir didn’t prove to be the sticking point in my overclocking efforts.
At full tilt, the 140-mm Silencios produce a growly, baritone hum instead of a broad-spectrum whoosh. That sound isn’t as annoying as a higher-pitched noise would be, but it also doesn’t fade into the background as readily as I would like. What’s more concerning is the almost motorcycle-like sound these fans produce as they rev up to full speed. While that transition won’t happen often, it’s still pretty jarring.
Another problem arose with the Maker 8 running at full tilt. Occasionally, the cooler would begin producing a high-pitched whine that sounded like someone blowing on the bare reed of a woodwind instrument. I’m guessing that’s from the plastic-on-plastic fan rails, but I’m not entirely sure. Removing and reinstalling the cooler seemed to stamp out this issue, so it’s possible that my experience was a fluke.
With the Nepton 240M strapped on, the Core i5-6600K topped out at about 72° C, and I measured sound levels of about 47 dBA. I think the Nepton sounds slightly better than the Maker 8 at full speed, even though I wouldn’t call either of these coolers quiet when they’re running all-out. Even so, the smaller Silencios sound better at full speed than their 140-mm counterparts.
I have to wonder which one of these coolers would sound best inside a case, though. In an enclosure like Fractal Design’s Define R5 or Define S, placing a radiator at the top of the case also creates a path for other system noise to escape. Placing the radiator at the front of the case to avoid that issue means waste heat gets vented back into the case, potentially making other components run hotter and noisier under load. An air cooler like the Maker 8 lets builders leave those cases’ silencing features in place, potentially reducing system noise without compromising cooling that much.
Cooler Master’s MasterAir Maker 8 is a huge tower-style air cooler with an innovative base design that packs in more heatpipes than any other single-tower heatsink I’ve seen. At $130, it’s also one of the most expensive coolers on the market, period. With that price, I think Cooler Master has set a high bar for the Maker 8 to clear.
While the Maker 8 does deliver ever-so-slightly better idle noise levels all around than the similarly-priced Nepton 240M liquid cooler, this tower’s aural character and cooling performance on top of an overclocked CPU are all a bit worse than what the Nepton turns in. Installing an all-in-one liquid cooler involves tradeoffs of its own that could increase system temperatures or noise, though, while the Maker 8 lets cases like Fractal Design’s Define R5 work best with their silencing features fully in place.
Despite those potential acoustic advantages, my Maker 8 sometimes emitted a strange piercing whine from time to time when it was running at full tilt. That problem did go away when I removed and reinstalled the Maker 8, but I’d rather not have experienced it in the first place. This 6.8″ (172 mm) tower won’t fit in every case, and it could also create clearance issues for tall memory heatsinks and motherboards whose first PCIe x16 slot sits directly below the CPU socket. Liquid coolers generally avoid those problems. To be fair, those issues are easy enough to avoid with some careful parts-picking.
Cooler Master does deserve kudos for how easy it is to put the MasterAir Maker 8 in a system. I had zero issues installing this monster cooler without tools. The Maker 8 also extracted the full overclocking potential from our Core i5-6600K CPU. I got that chip to peak clocks of 4.6 GHz using 1.325V with this cooler, and the 75° C Prime95 load temperatures I saw at those speeds are nothing to scoff at.
Modders will appreciate Cooler Master’s willingness to share 3D schematics for this cooler’s interchangeable top plates, and if overclocking isn’t in the cards, the MasterAir can also keep stock-clocked chips cool while barely stretching its legs. This cooler easily kept our Core i5-6600K chilly while spinning its fans just above their idle speed, even under a full Prime95 load.
Even with those praises to its credit, the MasterAir Maker 8’s $130 price tag represents a $30 to $40 jump over the most expensive air coolers on the market right now. If it cost less, this cooler would be easier to recommend. Given my time with the Maker 8, I don’t know that Cooler Master has entirely justified that leap in price. Those willing to shell out the cash will get a handsome, easy-to-install heatsink that delivers solid cooling performance and decent acoustics. All else being equal, though, I’d save a few bucks and buy the biggest all-in-one liquid cooler my case could swallow.